Birthdays, as a child you long for them, hour upon hour of totally self-indulgent fun. I recall waking up at the crack of dawn, being allowed to greedily devour chocolate for breakfast, having my best friends over and diving head first in to a mountain of presents. Sweets, toys, cake… it was frankly exhausting, and early evening I would collapse in to a slumber and begin eagerly dreaming of the next.
Well, take it from me, when you are an exhausted 29 year old ‘career’ gal, about to wake up and confront the big 3-0, birthdays don’t quite have the same allure. No, scrap the party, turn off the phone, this was one birthday I would be hiding from… hiding in style that is.
Yes, with such an atrocious natural disaster on the horizon there was only one place to run, The Grove. This lavish 5* Hertfordshire hotel boasts everything from croquet lawns and an 18-hole championship golf course to an award-winning spa and even an urban beach complete with its own volleyball court, and all under the watchful eye of the resident 20ft topiary giraffe, who I named Monty (What? I am not 30 yet!). This glorious mansion and all of its quirky fun and games are surrounded by 300 acres of rolling hills, woodland and even a canal for good measure. Yes, this hotel has everything a girl (yes, a ‘girl’) could wish for, it was the perfect place hide out and defend my twenties.
With my best friend Annika in tow (and every anti-ageing product I possessed) we set off, just 18 miles from London we were soon careering up the impressively long driveway. With just hours of 29 left to spare, we ditched our bags with the charming doorman and legged it to the Sequoia spa. Having won countless awards this uber stylish spa is a magnet for the rich and famous, and with their guest book reading like a copy of Tatler magazine I simply had to book in. After all, if anyone could turn back time, it was them! With a cynical furrowed brow creeping across my forehead I booked in for the punchily priced ‘Hollywood Facial’. At £190 this sought after treatment is hot from Hollywood and boasts a baffling list of ingredients that sound like they are from a blockbuster sci-fi, not a spa, all of which promised to combat lines and wrinkles. Rumour has it this 90 minute miracle worker from the Spanish skin care brand, Natura Bisse is a pre-red carpet favorite with everyone from Beyonce to Oprah. Bring it on sister!
After a little negotiation the therapist eventually managed to coax me out of the decadent relaxation room and away from the magical bubble machine – it was working, she hadn’t even touched my face yet and I was already feeling 10 years old!
“This may tingle a little”, she said as she rubbed what felt like fresh stinging nettles all over my face. A layer of dusty powder chased the tingling away, this was followed by wet fingers over my face which instantly caused the ingredients to react, bubbling like champagne across my intrigued visage before erupting like a sherbet dip.
After various creams and serums were rubbed on and off it was time for the gold face mask, a thick gloopy liquid painted on to the face…and eyes! As the mask set my therapist gave me a relaxing head and shoulder massage before the rubbery mask was peeled off. Now, normally I am as cynical about these things as anyone else, you only have to check out my frown lines to know that, but my golly it worked! My skin was flawless and beaming like Jess circa 1995.
With my youth saved there was only one thing for it; a celebratory glass of chilled champagne. The Grove has three restaurants to choose from, plus a lavish lounge area rich in 18th century splendour, where we said bottoms up to freezing time whilst taking in the sweeping views of Charlotte’s Vale.
And what better way to end the day than enjoying a 10 course dinner in the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, Colette’s. Located in the hotel’s mansion this genteel setting is home to National Chef of the Year 2014, Russell Bateman. His immaculately presented seasonal dishes are a magnet for the nation’s rich and famous, in fact, I have never visited this restaurant without dining next to a gorgeous actress or iconic sportsman. And, this visit was no exception. I stared at the handsome pop singer and his gorgeous wife, wondering how they didn’t have a wrinkle to share – must’ve had the Hollywood Facial.
As we began to prepare our waistbands for the flurry of dishes that was to follow, not one, not two, but four amuse bouches arrived one after the other. Before we knew it the main show had begun; kicking off with an intense mackerel ensemble, followed by a delicious beetroot dish with creamy goat’s curd, then a rich and flavoursome pheasant’s egg before the palate refreshing cucumber and lime sorbet arrived. I hoped my metabolism was still in its twenties!
Having regained our momentum we were presented with a delicate brill concoction and a beef Rossini that was so tender it simply fell apart when touched. A playful mystery sorbet then arrived, don’t ask me how, but somehow we managed to eventually identify it as turnip sorbet – you know, your standard party grub.
Four hours on and we eventually called it an evening, donning our pyjamas and jumping in our king sized bed for the most glamorous birthday sleepover ever!
That night I dreamt of Monty the giraffe watching over the pool, the volleyball, the golf course and all of the other games that these pristine grounds held. I dreamt of giggling in the Jacuzzi and perspiring girly gossip in the steam room and being transfixed by the bubble machine in the haven of the relaxation room. I dreamt of dish after dish of world-class cuisine arriving as if by magic…
The next morning, somehow I woke up ravenous (well, a 10 course dinner can do that to you), having enjoyed a soak in our elaborate roll top bath we hot-footed it down to breakfast. Now, I am not normally one for a buffet, but this was a whole other ball game. The Glasshouse restaurant had everything from an extensive fresh baked patisserie table, a cooked to order omelette station and a dedicated probiotic area, to a fresh fruit salad counter and of course the traditional English where juicy mushrooms sat roasted with rosemary straight from the garden and chunks of sweet lemon.
Having sampled almost every counter we sat, stuffed but staring longingly at the steaming pain au chocolat. Oh what the hell, what are birthdays for? I devoured the delicious pastry and smiled; fun, friends and far too many calories, not that much had changed over the last three decades. As we went to leave and go back to reality a harem of gleaming Ferraris parked up to the delight of all the men inside who ran out to sneak a peek whilst pretending not to care. Honestly, boys and there toys, grow up I thought as I waved goodbye to Monty the giraffe.
The Grove is a 5* hotel and a member of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio. Rooms start at £310 per night. For reservations or more information call 01923 807 807 or visit www.thegrove.co.uk